“Enough with the safari already – tell us about the rest of Tanzania!” We’re so glad you asked!
First, we *LOVED* Tanzania! It was possibly the friendliest place we’ve visited! Everyone was SO excited to meet / have photos with / talk to Americans. It was like being almost famous. Everywhere we went people wanted to chat and introduce us to their friend/brother/mother who we just HAVE to meet! This week we want to share some of our wonderful Tanzanian Experiences.
At the end of the safari we were cut loose from the group and found a hotel a bit out of town. Being a new area for us, we set out up the street to explore our immediate environs. By “street” I mean a truly horrible dirt road laden with truck-sized pot holes and giant rocks. That any vehicle could survive it was beyond me…just walking was a challenge! Yet a steady stream of pedestrians, bikes, cars, trucks and even school busses full of children continually made their way. We were on our way back to the hotel when two young men with excellent English called and ran after us. They introduced themselves as Frank and Sam and absolutely insisted we stop and join them for a drink. Who were we to say “no”?
They took us up the street to Sam’s girlfriend’s business, “Ruth Place” – it’s a typical convenience store in TZ; very small store front that sells propane in tanks, beer, soda, juice, liquor, water, cookies, milk, yogurt after the milk sours and a few other little sundries. All of their friends go to Ruth Place to hang out – it’s a bit like an African version of Cheers. Yes, everyone knows your name. Well, after we’d been there for a day, anyway!
Sam and Frank are guides, but it was low season so no work. This is a common theme. Practically everyone we found who spoke English is a guide…but it’s low season. So, plenty of time to sit, drink and chat. We were blown away as they told us about every US presidential candidate in the race. They weighed in on every president since Bush #1. They ask if we are “ready for Hillary” (the unofficial slogan before she announced) and quiz us on the Trayvon Martin case and race in America (Howard Shultz would love it here!). They told us about TZ government, the class system, and schools. Schools came up a lot. Fascinating to hear about the differences between their schooling and ours. Spoiler Alert: their’s is much worse!
That first afternoon Ruth’s sister Vicky came by and started to touch my head. Africans love touching white people’s fine hair. She went ahead and pulled out my pony tail and put in a much more awesome braid. By the end of the night, Sam and Frank insisted on walking us back to our hotel and made us set a date to see them next.
We would spend time having fun with Frank, Sam, Ruthy and Vicky at Ruth Place for the rest of our week-long visit in Arusha. Over the week Sam would take us on a long walking tour of the area, show us his home and help us buy local meals at local prices (much better and cheaper than the hotel). He’d suggest something for dinner, place a few calls on his mobile (EVERYONE has a mobile phone!) and an hour later someone would roll up on a motorcycle and hand him a plastic bag full of food. Not fast food, but quite convenient delivery. Ruthy would give us Cokes and then…bon appetit! The last night we insisted on buying dinner for everyone to return their kind hospitality. Before we left Sam made sure to give us the number for his brother David, also a guide in low season, who lives in Tanga, a city over on the coast with the Indian Ocean. We filed that away.
A few photos from the walking tour Sam took us on…
THE PARE MOUNTAINS (tale of a not-great-guide)
As much as we loved our own TZ Cheers, it was time to expand our horizons and head into the Pare Mountains. The man who helped us get our Arusha hotel room “has a friend…he’s a guide, but it’s low season” who we hired to show us around the Pare.
Quick aside: one of the truly wonderful things about Tanzania was that everyone knew someone who knew someone else that we could turn to if we had questions, wanted a guide or just wanted to try out some experience. The webs of interpersonal connections…I wish we had that in the States!
Back to the Pare. Our guide, Masha, turned out to be a super friendly guy, but maybe not a great listener. This would be our only not-spectacular guide experience. Almost immediately Masha seemed to cut corners and wasn’t delivering on the promises he so vigorously made when we interviewed him. He promised us a direct bus to the mountains but he skipped the bus and put us in the “dola-dola” which is a mini-van turned chicken bus instead. As many people as can be squished into a dola-dola can ride. I immediately protested – not that I am above riding in the dola-dola, which we did a lot, but because we had paid our guide for a bus and seats to call our own. Masha found himself earning his inflated fee as I refused to let anyone share my seat or sit on my lap.
After three dola-dolas and a day of travel we arrived at his family’s home in the North Pare mountains – which was very modern and nice compared to most in the area. The “shower” consisted of Masha boiling us water and putting it in a bucket. Then we cut it with cold water and poured it over our heads. Since then we’ve done that a few times and it’s actually kind of fun! Not easy to wash my hair, but the rest of me was clean enough.
Masha insisted on taking us on a hike in the mountains which had some nice views. Each time we passed through someone’s land, Masha told us who they were, if they were Christian or Muslim and how much money they made. He was really obsessed with the money part. We weren’t so interested in hiking for this stretch of our trip, and had said as much during the interview (hoping to do more meeting of people, especially artists/craftsmen), but Masha wasn’t discussing it. He said hike, so hiking we went! In the afternoon he took us on a town tour which was more our style. I think he enjoyed showing off his white clients and we got to see town. Win-win! While we were there a big Muslim festival let out. Oodles of men in robes and women in a rainbow of head scarves were walking together and there was drumming. I wiggled to the sound of the drums and the women and girls put their scarves over their faces and squealed in delight while people clapped along. That’s where we learned lesson #2: Make any effort to dance in Tanzania and people love it! This would be the highlight of our trip to the North Pare.
We then headed further south into the mountains (they are distinguished on maps as the North Pare Mountains and South Pare Mountains). Now Masha was off his home turf and our experience improved dramatically as he had to rely on local guides rather than guiding us himself. We went to Mwaba town which was high, high, HIGH in the mountains. The dola-dola drove for hours up the side of the mountain on a road just like the one in Arusha…one that has no real business being called a road. We are happy to say we were far off the main tourist track! We stayed in the Tona Lodge, which was a lot like camping – though, to be fair, camping is much nicer. No electricity was available, but a shower bucket was provided. The owner was extremely friendly and he took us on a town tour. Hearing we wanted to meet local crafts people, he arranged for Aaron’s metalsmith lesson the next day where he made his ladle!
Walking around the little village with our local guide after the ladle lesson, we found ourselves at a home where they were breaking up a boulder that was next to the main house. Back-breaking work using pretty much just sledge hammers! Aaron took a stab at breaking rocks and I am thrilled to report, he didn’t hurt himself…and we have video proof! Once the boulder is leveled, a new crew will come in and use the rocks to build an addition onto the current house.
Gotta say that some of our best views came in the South Pare. In fact, we could see Kenya in the distance! Weird to think we were so close to Kenya that we could see it, but kind of cool. I asked our host if he or the villagers were at all concerned about al-shabaab coming over the border? “Of course we are, but what can we do about it?” and he shrugged. That put a chill through me and solidified our decision NOT to make a quick run over the border to visit.
When we did finally leave Masha, I felt bad for him. I can’t put my finger on it, but I took pity on him. I left the tipping in Aaron’s hands because I didn’t think he deserved a tip, but Aaron is better people than me. He thought that Masha made sure we were safe, fed, and got us around (all true!) so he deserved something. To Masha’s credit he didn’t abandon us at the dola-dola station. He said something to us at the end, “you’re not like the other tourists” and that is probably the truest thing he said to us all week. It got me thinking that maybe we were as hard for him to deal with as he was for us. Or ….maybe I’m over thinking it. Regardless, Aaron paid the man and off we went to our next adventure!